Why I cannot support the Iran deal

I want to recognize the president, secretary of state and entire negotiating team for their dedication and perseverance in seeking a peaceful means to ending Iran’s nuclear program. While I have grave concerns about the agreement, I have no question as to the administration’s and our nation’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Understanding the dire consequences of a nuclear Iran, I have worked to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons since 2000 — before Iran had any known centrifuges. In Congress I worked with both parties to increase sanctions pressure on Iran and to strengthen the U.S. negotiating positions toward the singular goal of blocking and permanently closing all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon. I was an original co-sponsor of the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 (HR 850), helping build bipartisan support and ultimately passing the bill in the House by a vote of 400-20. And I led a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama, signed by 79 freshman members, calling on the administration to increase pressure on Iran.

No one focused on the emerging Iranian nuclear threat 15 years ago could have conceived a future international deal legitimizing Iran as a threshold nuclear weapons state. Regrettably, that is exactly the agreement we now have to consider.

In that consideration, each of us brings our own perspectives and inclinations to our analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and risks of this deal. My personal assessment is colored by growing up in the proximate memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and under the nuclear shadow of the Cold War. (I vividly remember in grade school the “duck and cover” drills in anticipation of a bright white flash of a nuclear explosion.) My personal stake in this debate is further influenced by the terrifying youthful memory of Yom Kippur in 1973, when Israel faced a surprise attack from Egypt, and the Jewish state’s very existence was threatened. And my distrust for Iran is magnified by clear recall of the taking of 52 American hostages at the embassy in Tehran in 1979, and the 444 days the Iranian regime held our nation captive. I cannot put these perspectives aside as I analyze the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

To deepen my understanding of this deal, I have used the four short weeks since it was made publicly available to methodically read and reread the agreement and unclassified annexes, review the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol, and to speak with, and listen to, administration officials, former congressional colleagues, technical experts across multiple disciplines, and foreign leaders. I also watched hours of congressional hearings and consulted with constituents throughout my district.

Throughout this process, a set of three principles guided me:

  • Diplomacy is a better route to ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions than force. The only way to permanently eliminate the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is through a negotiated agreement.
  • Nuclear weapons hold such unimaginable destructive potential that Iran, especially this Iranian regime, must never be allowed to acquire one.
  • An agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb is better than one that relies on deterrence.

It was my fervent hope that this deal would achieve the goal of preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions for generations. I made every effort to find a path to “yes.” But the JCPOA fails the initial threshold test of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. It leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, lifts most limits on Iran’s nuclear program in 10-15 years, and over the course of the next 15 years is likely to strengthen the current regime’s hold on power and its nefarious regional influence.  As the deal is structured and in the present geo-political context, the prospect of Iran building a nuclear weapon in 15-20 years is too great a risk for us to take.

The JCPOA does achieve some important steps in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, including reducing Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), reducing the number of centrifuges in operation, and closing Iran’s plutonium path through the Arak heavy water reactor. It provides inspectors access to declared nuclear facilities, and requires Iran to follow the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But while moving Iran further away from a nuclear bomb for 10-15 years is an improvement on the status quo, it is simply not enough time.

The JCPOA falls short in four critical areas. First and foremost, in 15 years, virtually all bets are off as the most important limits on Iran’s nuclear program are lifted, and Iran can legitimately enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent (LEU) threshold to 20 percent (HEU) and higher, without restriction.

Second, the so-called “snapback sanctions” arrangement restricts the P5+1’s response to minor violations, with the only recourse being essentially a complete restoration of sanctions. It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that the international community will exercise this mechanism if Iran merely steps a toe across the boundaries of the agreement. Iran will constantly test the limits of any agreement, and the international community must be in a strong position to respond to every violation immediately and effectively.

Third, Iran will receive an immediate cash infusion as its frozen assets are released. While the vast majority of that money will be repatriated into Iran’s struggling economy, a significant share will likely find a way to Iran’s malign proxies and agents globally. This directly threatens our allies in the region, as well as our own security at home and abroad.

Fourth, under the terms of the agreement, the embargoes on conventional arms and ballistic missile technologies will be eased in five and eight years respectively, further increasing instability and creating more insecurity in the region.

Without concrete strategies and measures to address the gaps, I have no choice but to oppose this deal, and I call on Congress to do the same.

Our options are not limited only to this deal or war. It is illogical to expect Iran to rush back to the negotiating table, just as it is irrational to argue that Iran will not test the limits of any agreement. But I think it both logical and reasonable to call on the administration to do more, in words and in actions, around the parameters of the deal to mitigate the risks and close the gaps highlighted above. The Administration can and should lay out a set of policies, strategies and actions that will convince Iran and assure our allies that we will never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon and we will resolutely stand up to Iranian aggressions throughout the region and the world.

My hope remains that, in the weeks and months ahead, the administration and Congress, along with the other P5+1 countries, will work together to achieve a realistic, peaceful solution that will truly prevent—not just delay—Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

About the Author
U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider represented Illinois' 10th Congressional District from 2013-2015, and was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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